Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Connecting

It’s odd. You rack your brain for a story on a particular theme, conclude that you don’t have one, then suddenly realise that of course you do. It’s just that you’ve never seen it before from the perspective of that particular theme.

A dog story?

P1020007This week the problem occurred to me in relation to dogs. There I was on Abermawr beach when up came Storm. Storm is a black and white collie. His owner lives about half-an-hour’s walk from the beach. But Storm is always on the beach. For ten years or more, I’ve seen him whenever I go there. One day, I even spotted him from high on the coast path quite a distance away. A black and white dog? Yes, it was Storm.

Storm wears two tags on his collar. One says his name. The other says, ‘Please leave me on Abermawr beach.’ He loves that beach. He walks up and down it and in and out of the sea as if he just has to let you know what a fine place it is. This week, though, he looked less energetic. We could see he’s getting old. If and when he’s not on that beach, it won’t ever feel quite the same.

Storm started me thinking I’d like to write about him. And that led to me wondering if I know any folktale-type stories about a dog. No, I thought, I do not have n a single one. Then it dawned on me. I do. There’s a dog in a story I’ll be telling next week as part of Enchanted Evening, the evening of songs and stories my husband and I will be doing at Pepper’s in Fishguard with David Pepper as Paul’s accompanist.

Lifting the Sky is the story. It’s one that means a lot to me. Back in 2001, I was part of a special version of it which was created for me to perform with the North American Welsh Choir. The performance was to take place on the Olympic Peninsula in the North-West corner of America and months previously, I’d been asked to suggest a story that could be the basis of the new commission. The music was to be composed by Victor Davies, the well-known Welsh Canadian composer, the lyrics were to be written by poet, Carolyn Maddux. Of three possible stories I put forward, the one selected was the one I’d hoped would be chosen.  It’s a story I’d remembered from when I used to be regularly employed to tell stories at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich in London. As it happens, it’s a story that actually comes from the Salish people, one of several Native American Indian peoples of the Olympic Peninsula area. And why had I told it at the Royal Observatory? Well, because it’s a story that ends with the formation of a well-known constellation of stars.

And Lifting the Sky has got a dog in it. Here’s the story.

Lifting the Sky:

According to the Salish people, the Great Creator began making the world in the East and then moved gradually westward. When he finally came to Puget Sound, he still had many languages left in his basket. So he sprinkled these around, making lots of different tribes of people, each with its own different language. Because they’d been given all these different languages, the peoples of the area could not talk with each other. And this proved a complication in regard to a problem they had.

The problem was that the sky was too low, so low it made people frustrated and sad, so low it caused all kinds of difficulties. Tall people would often bang their heads against it. And sometimes a child who climbed a tall tree would not come down: he’d have disappeared into the Sky World.

Eventually, the people decided they must try to find a solution. A meeting of the elders concluded that they must try to lift the sky. This, they realised, would be a very hard job. But they felt sure it could be done if all the people of the area played their part and the animals and birds were involved too. They’d make poles from the tall pine trees that grow in the region and use them to push the sky up.

P1080256But how would everyone know when to push when the peoples of the area did not share the same language? This question also produced a good answer. As a signal for pushing, the elders would call out the phrase ‘Ya-hoh’. When Ya was called, everyone would get ready. When hoh was called, they’d all push. Hooooooh!

It worked. By the appointed day, pine trees had been cut to make poles for each person and the elders were ready to shout out the call. The first time Ya-hoh was shouted out,  everyone pushed with their poles at the sky but it merely wobbled. The call came again and this time it lifted a little. The people carried on pushing and pushing and soon the sky began lifting higher. And the people continued working together until the sky rose to where it is today.

But one thing happened that no-one had expected. Just as the Sky World loosened its purchase on the world below, three hunters with a dog came running after four elk they’d been chasing. These hunters knew nothing of the plan for lifting the sky and, just as it ripped away from the earth, the elk ran onto it and rose up with it together with the hunters and their dog. They were now in Sky World and that’s where they stayed. A great surprise resulted. 

That night, when the people on earth looked up into the sky, they saw a shining shape of beautiful stars – the configuration we call the Plough in the UK or Big Dipper in North America. The four elk that had gone into Sky World had become the bowl of the dipper. The three hunters formed the dipper’s handle. And just to the side of the middle hunter was the star that had been the hunters’ dog.

A question:

One reason I love the story of Lifting the Sky is because the Salish people evidently used to tell it to remind us that the answer to many of our problems on earth is for people to work together. I also think the story reminds us of the beauty there is in our world and how it can give us strength. So when the sky feels too low today as, indeed, it sometimes can, it’s good to remember to look up at the sky on a clear, still night and see the beauty of the stars. 

So there’s my dog story in honour of Storm. But along with it comes a question. What I don’t know is whether the Big Dipper, the configuration that figures in Lifting the Sky  is visible in the Southern half of our world. Blog-readers in India and Australia, can you enlighten me on this matter?

PS: The top photo of Storm was taken back in 2011. The bottom one, taken this week, is of Storm looking out at the beach he loves.

 

 

 

 

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3 Responses to “Storytelling Starters ~ Connecting”

  1. Meg Says:

    Hi Mary
    I have never met a dog that loved the beach by itself like Storm – what a great character!
    Your post had me reread Joseph Bruchac’s version “Pushing up the Sky” which he wrote as a play for children. I never got the wonder of it till now … that it was the poles they pushed the sky up with which made the holes for the stars to shine thru.
    Our marker in Australia for south is The Southern Cross. I don’t see the Big Dipper / The Plough till I travel into the northern hemisphere and must confess how reassuring it is to see that star pattern again.
    This link explains it better than I can. http://www.space.com/15346-big-dipper-southern-cross-skywatching-guide.html
    Thanks again for a great post. Meg

  2. Mary Medlicott Says:

    Meg, your web link about The Big Dipper/Plough is just what I needed. Now I know! Thanks so much for sending the info. Mary

  3. Meg Says:

    PS. Yours is a fascinating story of a storyteller. M

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